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Starting from the idea that all papal government in the twelfth century was responsive, this chapter uses papal letters from the period ca. 1148–79 to investigate how far the canons of the 1179 council were grounded in disputes that emerged locally. It has two principal intentions: firstly, to demonstrate how and when Pope Alexander III would have grappled with the issues tackled by the canons in the years prior to the council, and secondly to consider how far these problems emerged from the quotidian business of the Latin Church. Although grounded in the study of twelfth–century papal decretals, the letters sent by popes in response to queries, and requests for adjudication, the chapter also considers the evidence provided by other papal letters which were not included in contemporary legal collections. The result is a broader analysis of the processes of papal government and the question of the existence of a papal ‘agenda’ at the time, accompanied by consideration of the logic behind the inclusion of particular letters into legal collections and whether, and if so why, there were substantive differences between the measures put forward in the letters and those in the 1179 conciliar acta.
The final chapter completes the analysis, weaving together themes from previous chapters to investigate how the canons were used. Beginning with the papal deployment of the conciliar authorities, the chapter suggests an inherent flexibility: while the papacy would reaffirm the conciliar decrees in some circumstances, in others it would use them merely as guidelines. The chapter then turns to local and episcopal use of the conciliar decrees, showing that in some cases bishops followed the stipulations, while elsewhere they attempted to avoid, change, or interpret them. Finally, the use of the decrees by canon lawyers, both in the schools and in episcopal retinues, is considered: immediately after the council, there was no one way in which these lawyers treated and understood the decrees, and it was only with Bernard of Pavia’s canonical collection known as the Breviarium Extravagantium (ca. 1191) that canon lawyers began to interpret them as overarching, general stipulations. Overall, the chapter points to the plurality of ways in which twelfth–century clerics conceived of papal and conciliar power and authority, with both conciliar decrees and papal decretals being viewed with uncertainty as they became established legal precedents.
This Conclusion reconsiders the aims of the book – to investigate how the ideas that underpinned the canons were drawn together, and then what happened to the canons after they left the conciliar environment – and draws larger conclusions on the ability and authority of the papacy to rule in the twelfth century, as well as commenting more particularly on the role that conciliar canons played as legal texts in the eyes of contemporaries. Using the conciliar canons, the innately responsive nature of papal government in all its forms can be deduced; most of the canons concerned issues of deep contemporary relevance that had been brought before the curia in the decade or so before the council, or were commented on in the schools. The chapter ends by suggesting that whatever the papacy’s intention for the conciliar canons, their ultimate effects and the continued resonance of their stipulations were the consequence of a prolonged dialogue between popes and local clerics.
This chapter first introduces the 1179 Lateran Council and then situates it within the broader history of the papacy and medieval canon law in the twelfth century. It begins by outlining the events leading up to the council and its emergence as the resolution to a damaging schism between Pope Alexander III and Frederick Barbarossa. The chapter then provides a brief, accessible account of twelfth-century canon law and its relationship to papal government. The role played by the papacy and by local clerics in creating contemporary canon law is analysed, and an overview of current ideas and thoughts provided, including an – of necessity brief – interlude into the debates surrounding the appearance of the Decretum Gratiani in ca. 1140. The aim is to situate canon law in the history of Church government in the central Middle Ages, before moving on to discuss the nature and purpose of church councils and the twelfth–century legal theories upon which their authority rested.
This fourth chapter provides an extended discussion of the promulgation and surviving manuscript copies of the 1179 conciliar canons. It begins with an analysis of the methods by which the canons of papal councils were promulgated and transmitted between ca. 1050 and 1215, before briefly detailing the events of the 1179 Lateran Council as far as they can be reconstructed from surviving narrative accounts. The majority of the chapter, however, focusses on the dissemination and movement of the 1179 conciliar decrees, and what that can tell us about contemporary perceptions of papal conciliar canons. A key issue is the extent to which the decrees were transmitted as a coherent whole, and therefore viewed as a set of texts that had to be kept together without alteration. Overall, the chapter suggests that the 1179 canons initially existed in more than one recension but, more importantly, demonstrates that the versions that were received in different areas of Christendom were not necessarily the same. It therefore illustrates how uncertain the transmission of papal ‘legislation’ remained, late into the twelfth century.
While Chapter 2 examines the direct relationship between the papacy and local problems, Chapter 3 investigates the surviving writings of the canon law schools, and their contribution to the debates and ideas present in the 1179 conciliar canons. Using the commentaries written by and for scholars, this chapter attempts to draw links between the opinions of certain canonists and the legal points put forward in the 1179 canons. It assesses the legal learning of Alexander’s curia and cardinals, using that analysis to gauge how far canonists present as part of the papal entourage influenced the contents and direction of the canons compared to those who arrived only for the council itself. It also aims to show that while the 1179 decrees relied on recent canonists’ commentaries and opinions, at times they diverged from those approaches, providing important evidence for the role of papal decision–making. Overall, despite the clear imprint of the curia’s role in shaping the canons, they mostly represent ideas that were current, and in some cases achieved, through the communication and innovation of the legal schools.
Alexander III's 1179 Lateran Council, was, for medieval contemporaries, the first of the great papal councils of the central Middle Ages. Gathered to demonstrate the renewed unity of the Latin Church, it brought together hundreds of bishops and other ecclesiastical dignitaries to discuss and debate the laws and problems that faced that church. In this evaluation of the 1179 conciliar decrees, Danica Summerlin demonstrates how these decrees, often characterised as widespread and effective ecclesiastical legislation, emerged from local disputes which were then subjected to a period of sifting and gradual integration into the local and scholarly consciousness, in exactly the same way as other contemporary legal texts. Rather than papal mandates that were automatically observed as a result of their inherent papal authority, therefore, Summerlin reveals how conciliar decrees should be viewed as representative of contemporary discussions between the papacy, their representatives and local bishops, clerics, and scholars.
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